Big Data's Big Role In Big Politics

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Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Barack Obama revolutionized the art of campaign politics through his innovative use of the Internet, social media and data analytics to reach voters and harness volunteers in two successful presidential races in 2008 and 2012.

Fast forward to the 2016 election, and solution providers are bringing big data to candidates throughout the field of presidential hopefuls, combining analytics with a new class of technologies such as social listening and identity relationship resolution software to give candidates the edge they need to clinch victory.

So far, the 22 current and former 2016 candidates have spent $3.69 million with 67 solution providers through the end of January, according to a CRN analysis of campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Money that in previous campaign cycles went to a select group of political consultants is now finding its way into the pockets of solution providers offering cost-effective cloud computing services.

[Related: 50 Partners Raking In The Most Campaign Cash]

Presidential candidates are now using technology to acquire voters in the same way businesses acquire new customers, which puts solution providers in the perfect position to help them, said Eric Berridge, CEO of New York-based solution provider Bluewolf.

2016 Election
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"As has become such a vital tool for candidates, we're a natural fit to help those organizations very quickly spin out those applications and get voters," said Berridge, whose company has helped enterprises such as Newscorp and Sun Life Financial win new customers using the platform. Bluewolf, No. 240 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500 list, has provided Democrat Hillary Clinton with nearly $336,000 in technology consulting services in the current election.

Presidential campaigns have made dramatic gains in using big data to attract the right voters at the right time with the right message. In this election, politicians for the first time are putting social listening and amplification techniques to widespread use, Berridge said. "The whole digital paradigm has really matured in the past eight years," he said.

By gathering digital clues as to how candidates' speeches, debates, advertising, videos and door-to-door campaigning are resonating with potential supporters, campaigns can adjust their talking points to maximize their relevance to each voter segment, he said.

Bluewolf is typically more granular in how it measures engagement levels for political clients—focusing on items such as message open and click-through rates—since, unlike consumers, voters only register their preferences on a single occasion: Election Day.

"In a typical campaign [for a business client], you're constantly chasing opportunity," Berridge said. "But in this instance, you're preparing for one day."

Candidates also are tapping solution providers to help them capture support through constituents' smartphones, Berridge said. Obama's 2008 campaign introduced micro-fundraising to the political scene, he said, where candidates raise large sums of money from a huge quantity of donors giving in increments of just $10 to $50. But this campaign cycle is the first to see mobile micro-fundraising, Berridge said, where supporters can give $20 or so just by swiping right on their smartphones.

"This [mobile micro-fundraising] is definitely going to be the standard in the future," Berridge said.

Candidates also are leveraging mobile devices to blast out messages about the state of the campaign to supporters, he said.

CRN reached out to the presidential campaigns but they did not respond to requests for comment.

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